Harbinger

Harbinger

Written by Tyler Sager on 5/14/2003 for PC  

Harbinger is a game that elicits many happy memories. Unfortunately, most of those happy memories were from other, superior titles that I very much wish I was playing. A game like Harbinger, which has been (rightly) called a “Diablo-in-space” game, should wow me with new and innovative takes on the now-familiar action-RPG genre. Instead, minutes after finishing up my trek through the twisted decks of the starship Harbinger, I quickly had to load up a different, vastly better action-RPG to cleanse my gaming palette.

That being said, Harbinger isn’t all bad. Visually, it’s actually quite pleasing. Clean graphics, interesting (if a bit repetitive) “dungeon” floors, and decent animations for all of the characters and monsters are a high point in the game. Sound follows suit, with solid effects and decent background music. The interface is also quite good—after a quick perusal of the hotkeys, players can jump in and be mowing through enemies in almost no time. All in all, the nuts-and-bolts of Harbinger lay quite a firm foundation for a great game. Alas, most of what’s built on that foundation just doesn’t hold up.

The first weak point is story. Granted, most games in this particular genre never have all that solid a plot—even Diablo quickly boiled down to “kill stuff, take their things, kill more stuff, and finally kill the Big Baddie”. So a weaker story can be forgiven if the rest of the game holds its own. The story here revolves around a behemoth of a starship called Harbinger, a floating city that basically wanders the galaxy, pillages entire planets, and then continues along its merry way. Living aboard this city-ship are several different races, some conquerors and some conquered. Players take control of one of three characters that have recently slipped through the fingers of the masters of Harbinger and made their way to Torvus Junction, a haven for outlaws and escaped slaves. The game hinges around a series of missions given by a handful of characters around Torvus Junction. Once a mission is given, the corresponding deck-level is made available, and the characters sets to work. Most of the missions follow the very predictable “slay this, find that” routine that plagues this style of game. There’s very little originality here. The storyline is painfully linear, as well. Not only are players railroaded through the plot, levels become unavailable after completion of a quest. There’s no going back and finishing off old decks once you’ve left them behind.
Character management is quite simple. The three available character classes are standard Human, robotic Gladiator, and alien Culibine. Each has a long-range attack, a close-range attack, and a character-specific set of toys to play with. The Human can use mines, the Gladiator employs robotic drones useful for scouting and remote attack, and the Culibine has mastery over Amps, little whirligigs that hover around her head and confer defensive and offensive bonuses. As for style of play, in fantasy-esque terms, the Gladiator equates to the warrior, the Human to the Rogue/Thief, and the Culibine to the magic-user. The classes do play quite differently, and have slightly different plots through the game. Experience points are gathered by killing enemies and completing missions, and levels are awarded when enough experience accumulates. Upon leveling up, three skill points are given to spread between the four statistics (close-range combat, long-range combat, life points, and special technological toy ability). That’s it. Except for the ability to use more powerful weapons and better technological toys, characters don’t ever gain any additional skills or abilities. This means that, after about a half-hour of play, once you figure out the proper way to carry out combat, that’s exactly how you’ll play for the rest of the 20-plus hours of game.

Which leads to the most disappointing part of Harbinger—repetitive play. Each weapon has or can be fitted with the ability to dole out a few different types of damage. There are basically 4 different types of enemies. Once you figure out which damage type works best against which enemy, the game falls into a rut. To make matters worse, there are only a handful of visually different enemies, with differences often being nothing more than a color change or a difference in weapon. Topping it all off, most enemies are exclusively either melee enemies or ranged enemies. The former is laughably easy to defeat with a ranged weapon as they recklessly charge the character. The latter stand quite still while shooting, making for a fairly easy time of destroying them while dodging their slow-moving energy blasts. Again, after about 30 minutes of play, nothing is really new or challenging. Occasionally the character might get surrounded by enemies, but that makes for most of the excitement of the rest of the game. Even most of the bosses were quite simple to defeat, using the same tactics employed against the lowly level-one enemies.

So is this a complete wash of a game? Not really. First up, this game retails for a bit less money than most new games. So, with a bargain in mind, there were amusing bits in the dialogue, and the story was mildly engaging (but just barely). And, as most action-RPG players know, there’s just something soothing about mindlessly mowing through hordes of enemies, even when there is very little challenge in doing so. If you’ve been through all of the Diablo clones out there and yearn for something more (but still more of the same), or if you’re tired of swords and magic and need to just shoot stuff for a change, Harbinger may do the trick. I can’t recommend this for anyone other than die-hard (and slightly desperate) fans of Diablo-style games, however, so if you’re looking for something new or innovative, or even engrossing, you won’t find it here.
A repetitive, unoriginal “Diablo in Space”. Still, for the bargain price, some may find a bit of amusement here, especially those going through an action-RPG withdrawal.

Rating: 6.4 Flawed

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

I'm an old-school gamer, and have been at it ever since the days of the Atari 2600. I took a hiatus from the console world to focus on PC games after that, but I've come back into the fold with the PS2. I'm an RPG and strategy fan, and could probably live my gaming life off a diet of nothing else. I also have soft spot for those off-the-wall, independent-developer games, so I get to see more than my share of innovative (and often strange) titles.

Away from the computer, I'm an avid boardgamer, thoroughly enjoying the sound of dice clattering across a table. I also enjoy birdwatching and just mucking around in the Great Outdoors.
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